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  • Writer's pictureantoniodellomo

Augmented Reality (AR) vs. Virtual Reality (VR)

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines reality as “the quality or state of being real” or as “something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily.” That definition may have been self-explanatory for the majority of human history, but the last decade has seen the debut of numerous terms defining new versions of the world we see around us. The terms "virtual reality" and "augmented reality" get thrown around a lot these days.

They sound similar, and as the technologies develop, they bleed over into each other a bit. They're two very different concepts, though, with characteristics that readily distinguish them from one another. I wanted to take a moment to clarify the terminology surrounding this confusing topic and explain the difference between augmented and virtual reality.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Defined as “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera).” The key difference between AR and VR is that AR users will always see what's actually in front of them, just with an added layer of virtual aspects on top of it. In AR, the computer uses sensors and algorithms to determine not the position of the user’s eye as in VR, but rather the position and orientation of a camera. AR technology then renders the 3D graphics as they would appear from the viewpoint of the camera and superimposes the computer-generated images over the users’ view of the real world in front of them. Examples of augmented reality experiences include Snapchat lenses and the game Pokemon Go.

Image from Ruhani Rabin

Technology is reshaping the world in many different ways, with Augmented Reality (AR) being one of the most staggering examples of the digital revolution. According to the research, the global AR market should grow at a compound annual growth rate of 43.8% from 2021 to 2028 to reach USD 340.16 billion by 2028. At the same time, business analytics revealed that over 60% of customers believe AR brings them shopping benefits. Big brands acknowledged this fact immediately and decided to provide consumers with the new type of marketing.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Defined as “an artificial environment, which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.” In VR, the computer uses sensors to locate the position of the user’s eyes within a simulated environment. If the user’s head turns, the graphics respond accordingly. VR VR implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world.

How we interact with this virtual environment, however, depends largely on the platform in use. The medium through which VR is often projected is a head-mounted display that immerses users into the virtual world, eliminating the barrier presented by an external object, such as a tablet or a smartphone. Most VR headsets are designed for users to remain seated; the goggles allow users to move through virtual space in the way handheld controllers would in a 2D video game.

A few examples of VR technology on the market:

  • Oculus Rift: Requiring both a computer (which the headset is cabled into) and a separate controller to function, Facebook’s Oculus Rift provides an immersive screen that uses sensors to monitor users’ head motions and adjust the projected image accordingly.

  • Google Cardboard: This low-tech design offers a less expensive alternative as the assembly does not require a computer, but rather is powered by a smartphone strapped onto the user’s face.

  • Samsung’s Gear VR operates similarly.

Oculus Touch allows Oculus Rift gamers to use their hands in virtual worlds.

Image from Oculus VR

What is the difference between AR and VR?

A helpful way to differentiate between VR and AR is to think of AR as a virtual world in which the user maintains one foot in the real world, whereas in VR users are entirely immersed in that virtual world.

While AR simulates virtual objects in the users’ surrounding reality and allows users to interact with those objects, VR creates a completely artificial reality for its users to inhabit.


Augmented reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) bridge the digital and physical worlds. They allow you to take in information and content visually, in the same way, you take in the world. AR dramatically expands the ways our devices can help with everyday activities like searching for information, shopping, and expressing yourself. VR lets you experience what it's like to go anywhere — from the front row of a concert to distant planets in outer space.


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